AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas governor said the current legislative session “will not end” until lawmakers reform the state’s electric grid operator and harden its power generators after harsh winter storms left millions in the dark for days.
In a statewide address Wednesday evening, Gov. Greg Abbott said he will make the restructuring and investigation of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) his top legislative priorities.
“ERCOT must be overhauled,” Abbott said.
Last week Abbott called for an investigation into ERCOT, which manages the state’s independent power grid. Due to failures among power generators during the extreme winter weather, ERCOT had difficulties managing the grid and keeping the lights on for millions of Texans.
As soon as Thursday, the state legislature will begin those comprehensive investigations into ERCOT, Abbott announced in the televised address. Additionally, the governor said he’s already working on reforms to add more power to the grid to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
“At a time when essential services were needed the most, the system broke. You deserve answers. You will get those answers,” he said.
Abbott has prioritized the weatherization of all of the state’s energy infrastructure to protect it from sub-freezing temperatures like the bitter cold Texas experienced last week.
“We have to weatherize wellheads, we have to weatherize generators, we have to weatherize, solar, (and) the windmills,” State Rep. Terry Meza, D-Irving, said.
Although five unaffiliated directors of ERCOT already resigned Wednesday during an “urgent” board meeting, Abbott said more must be done. State lawmakers say that falls on him, and the Legislature.
“One fall guy will not correct the underlying problem that left Aunt Mary shivering in the cold and in the dark for three and a half to four days,” State Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, D-Austin, said.
State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, said Abbott — as the state’s chief executive and appointer of the Public Utility Commissioners who oversee ERCOT — has as much culpability as the Legislature.
“He takes responsibility, just as we do as elected officials, at making sure that those individuals are capable and knowledgeable and have the ability to responsibly oversee and govern and manage the marketplace and electrical generation here in Texas,” Schwertner said.
Gilberto Hinojosa, the chair of the Texas Democratic Party, released a statement soon after the governor’s address ended Wednesday night and called for Abbott to step down.
“Members of the board of ERCOT resigned for their failures and Greg Abbott should follow. He is the head of the state. He is responsible for this crisis,” Hinojosa said in his statement. “Abbott’s lack of foresight and inability to manage this crisis is part of a repeated pattern. He didn’t take action when Texans were displaced during Hurricane Harvey, he refused to plan appropriately for the coronavirus crisis, his handling of vaccine distribution has been abysmal, and now, in Texas’ time of greatest need during this winter storm, his incompetence is once again on full display.”
Echoing comments made last week, Abbott reported that ERCOT “repeatedly” assured the state and the public it was prepared for the severe winter storms, but he said “those assurances turned out to be false.”
He said power generators of all types — natural gas, coal, nuclear, wind and solar — failed and were underprepared for the storms. He wants to make it a legislative priority to mandate and fund the winterization of Texas’ power infrastructure.
“This legislative session will not end until we fix these problems,” Abbott said.
He would also like to ensure Texans are protected from sky-high electric bills caused by this energy disaster.
“The state is already investigating multiple electric providers about these spikes,” Abbott said.
He announced they also ordered that Texans will not have their power shut off from unpaid bills until the legislature has time to act on this.
Last week, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton also issued Civil Investigative Demands to ERCOT and other power companies like Oncor, CenterPoint Energy, Texas-New Mexico Power and AEP Texas, to look into power outages, emergency plans, pricing and more related to the winter storms.